What a Ship Waifu Game Can Teach The Game Industry

When someone drops the phrase “mobile game”, it instantly conjures scoffs and rants about horrible RNG, thousands of dollars sank and the inevitable “do you have phones?” joke that’s ran it’s course by now.

But every once in a while, a game will come up in the mobile sphere that is a hidden gem. And none of these has been more promising than a game called Azur Lane, a collection game with personified ship girls. It’s a relatively new mobile game, barely out for a year and some change but it’s already making a few waves, no pun intended.

And the game industry is absolutely sleeping on it.

Here’s a few things I think the game industry as a whole can learn from Azur Lane.

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The staff of Azur Lane is relateable

When was the last time a “cooperate” account runner was approachable or funny? (And no, we’re not talking about sassy one off’s like Wendy’s or the memetastic shenanigans of Arby’s). Azur Lane staff have a way of connecting and empathizing with their audience. They know how to inject humor during what would normally be annoying game downtimes, such as creating Discord rooms called “gulag” or “obt-ender” for people to spam in. They take the memes their community makes- the good, bad, and slightly lewd- and run with it. An audio bug from a hotfix to remove a collab was immediately patched up within the hour and passed off jokingly as “[…]some commanders wanted a GFL collab right? Enjoy…”.

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How To Take a Patch Fail And Spin It 101

Key takeaway — Being approachable, taking memes in stride and engaging with the playerbase on a nearly day to day basis builds a loyal connection.

Azur Lane is communicative and transparent

This seems like a no brainer, but it should come as no surprise that a sizeable majority of the game industry doesn’t supply their playerbases with timely communication. Coming from that end, I understand why — there’s alot of people that will look over even the simplest status update messages, and it will email daisy-chain through at least 5–10 peoples’ inbox’s with a few edits before it even hits the social channels. This process can be slowed with additional meetings, depending on how big the message is and how many departments will be affected. In some cases, there is an active decision to not communicate (which is even worse than slow communication). This is in stark contrast to Azur Lane staff, who will over communicate their intentions. You can tell the staff are so proud of their product, that they will leak new ship updates and collabs through cryptic messages in their official Discord first before Tweeting out the information. They will also tip people off on events that could potentially affect monetary spending.

When Submarines were introduced in the game as permanent additions to the ‘Special Construction” tab, an in-game mail was dispatched quickly with a few spare gems attached, notifying people that a big event was on the horizon and to not spend cubes.

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Not all communication has been positive. An incident occurred where somehow people were unable to log into their accounts, resulting in mass panic.

Staff started practically group QAing it, pushing out hotfix builds and asking people to apply them from a Dropbox link, constantly posting additional updates as they attempted to troubleshoot it. Eventually, the issues subsided but the fact that they were so hands on with troubleshooting and that they walked though their processes semi publicly continued to build on that layer of trust and goodwill.

Key takeaway — A playerbase will rally behind admins who are not afraid to admit mistakes and work quickly to rectify them. Passion for your product can’t be faked.

Azur Lane does microtransactions (mostly) right*

The life blood of all F2P or games as a service models is housed in microtransactions. All games in this vein are built front the ground up with carefully crafted calculations of how long a player must engage in every system in the game to reach the next milestone or progression point. To some varying degrees of severity, calculations are also made for how far someone can be “pushed” until they feel like they need to pull out a credit card to relieve the game’s pain points (whether its time, resources, grind, bad RNG etc.). Azur Lane works counter to the prevailing strategies of most gacha or collection games and are incredibly generous with all aspects of progression.

Equipment can be farmed in maps or bought through the in-game coin shop. Oil (stamina) can be refreshed at a good clip and gained from missions and destroying ships. Coin, the currency for many in-game systems, can be farmed up from chapters, daily missions etc. Cubes, used to construct new ships, are given out at a good clip from dailies and completing certain tasks as well as a rotational item that can be purchased from PvP currency and in game coins occasionally. Ships, the primary progression point, can be farmed from normal story modes and some of the best ships can be purchased on a rotation with medals obtained from deconstructing certain rarity ships. So if they’re so generous in nearly all aspects to keep people in the game loop, where are they making their money?

Skins, skins and more skins. Wedding Rings, to marry your ships and give them custom names and sometimes special wedding dresses depending on the ship. And trade licenses, a 30 day item that gives you a small batch of resources per day that you can store in your in-game mail.

I will take a moment to step back to acknowledge that while the game has flashy skins and value balanced packs (and its very clear where they are trying to drive the microtransactions towards, which is mostly cosmetics and “pay to ease progression and play longer”), you can still buy cubes with premium currency. It would be foolish to say that cubes aren’t also getting bought at high quantities, but they do seem to put a heavier focus on other items in their shop.

This will probably stir controversy from the most die hard Commanders, but I feel that Azur Lane has nearly perfected the proper way of microtransactions - baring a few glaring outliers. Personally, the only outliers on an otherwise outstanding track record would be the Neptunia collaboration event, and the overlapping double banner of Kizuna AI collaboration and “the chibis” special build event.

Blueprint #1 Commander’s First Collab — Nep Nep

Azur Lane, up until this point, had been massively praised by players and content creators who operate in the mobile/gacha gaming space as having some of the most generous rates of competing games.

Imagine the confusion when the rates were released and they were not only lower than any ship drop rates of the same rarity even compared to previous events, but they were also on alternating “boosted rates”. What does this mean? Basically, half the ships were on boosted rates one week and the next week, the other half were boosted.

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One week or bust

Purple Heart, White Heart and Blanc were featured at a boosted 2.25%, 2.25% and 3.15% respectively and then dropped to .75%, .75% and 1.05% the following week. The week after, Black Heart, Green Heart and Noire were boosted to 2.25%, 2.25% and 3.15% In comparison, Super Rare drop rates on normal construction tabs are 7%.

One final bit to note here is a rate change on Green Heart from the CN/JP server. She was a standard .75% but somehow got her rate changed to .5% for EN server, which caused some heartbreak trying to chase her outside of rate up week.

Overall, the implied pressure to roll in the collaboration due to the rate changes (even though these ships didn’t count towards the collection percentage) left a bad taste in some player’s mouths.

Blueprint #2 The Absolute State of Double Event Bannering

This is a normal occurrence in MMOs — having multiple events, monetization promotions and cash shop sales happening all at once to drive engagement. As a result of trying to sync up multiple region versions, the speed at which events are cranked out for EN server made alot of people’s heads spin. The excitement of having a simultaneous event with the other servers, and with Kizuna Ai no less, was quickly dampened by the announcement of another overlapping construction event.

It was pretty obvious that the game was in no way properly balanced to have two simultaneous double banners/machines running with the same end dates. This would be the second such time that the pressure to buy premium currency was implied, but this one felt more egregious to some players than the first instance. With both a “Limited Construction” tab open and three limited run ships added to the “Special Construction” tab, this split the resources of even the most dedicated F2P players.

This event resource sting would have probably been better received if it didn’t come directly after another highly anticipated event for the EN server and some players were already reeling from engaging in that.

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I’d like to not try rolling for everything by the last few hours of the event, thank you.

In spite of these two monetization stumbles, if you can even call them that, the good will they had carefully fostered during the entirety of the Open Beta saw that these two instances didn’t hurt the overall community sentiment. And as a casual observer of people posting pulls, it didn’t seem to hurt their revenue either.

Key takeaways — Build a fun game that isn’t stingy with its rewards that offers equally alluring benefits to both free users and paying users. The money will shortly follow.

As of writing this, Azur Lane is coming out of Open Beta today with an entirely revamped UI and massive Quality of Life updates, on the heels of all the feedback and suggestions they’ve gotten from players.

And I absolutely can’t wait to see what the developers have in store for the upcoming one year Anniversary on the EN servers and beyond!

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What other mobile games do you think are hidden gems? Let me know here or Tweet at me!

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Written by

Former Associate Product Manager — PWI ☆ Loves JRPGs, Pokemon and MMOs ☆ Synthesizer of Game Community and Business KPIs ☆

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